Enabling Collaborative Content Creation with Adam Hyde, Online Discussion Notes

FabRiders’ Network-Centric Resources supports the development of participatory resources, building assets for networks and communities that share ownership, enable contribution and support collaboration. In this online discussion, Adam Hyde shared his lessons learned in enabling collaborative content creation. Note that this is a redo of an online recording which we did two months ago but thanks to various tech fails,  we couldn’t capture a recording. But we did this time! See below.

Top level take aways:

  • Remote book sprints are not advisable as you lose intensity, productivity and the ability to generate great content.
  • Facilitation is critical for successful collaborations
  • Remixing of existing content is less likely to happen because every book has a tone, a nuanced approach, a narrative arc, and a specific audience, that makes it  hard to cut and paste content.
  • Always credit source content and collaborations.
  • Store your content in muliple places online, and use positories that are built for the format of you content and have an ethos of public good and open source

Discussion Notes

We started the discussion by travelling back a decade to revisit a project that Adam had started called FLOSS Manuals, a platform for developing guides, how-tos and manuals for Free and Open Source Software. The aim was to make documentation valuable and make the creators of the content valued. It worked to help get people to understand the eco-system needed for producing open source software.

Learnings on Collaboration:

  • People love it
  • People thrive on connecting and produce an enormous amount of work in a concentrated amount of time.
  • Togetherness is something we miss out in our Adult lives, and we could use more of it.
  • Facilitation is critical to successful collaboration
    • An experienced facilitator that understands your context and aims.

Learning how to facilitate a book sprint can’t come from reading materials, its really about mentoring and helping people to discover their expertise. Adam did further reflection on what it takes to do production facilitation in a blog post written after our last conversation.

Adam advises against running remote book sprints. Magic and productivity get lost when people are not sitting side by side. You have far less control over their attention. Intensity is what gets lost, and that is invaluable.

Adam has had a lot of hard learning that remixing existing content also doesn’t work. Every book has a tone, a nuanced approach, a narrative arc, and a specific audience, that makes it  hard to cut and paste content and make it fit in without breaking the flow. You need to rewrite content and even do translation. It’s like having a DJ vs having a music player on shuffle. You need to reshape material to fit into whatever you are writing really. There’s some mechanical stuff you can do that help with reuse and repurposing such as licensing and referencing within the text.

As with DJing – it’s good to have your tracklisting. So even if you’ve profoundly rewritten something, it’s important to give credit and be able to show how others have contributed. It’s important to be generous in this regards.

Rachel Weidinger from the Narrative Initiative is working with a nascent global network of creative campaigners, and wants to build infrastructure to help learn from each other and asks: Do you have any recommendations or considerations for building processes/platforms for collaborative content creation for a broad spectrum of stakeholders? Adam’s learning is that you need to develop together. You can’t rely on programmers to build it for you, especially with external platforms. Build it and design it together if you want people to make use of the hard work of whatever gets built. How do you think about collaboration between cultural contexts and languages? Thoughts about building shared working values in cases like these? Any cool examples? Adam worked on a UN project to get common terms around elections translated into several Arabic dialects. The answer was to develop software that would support creating a lexicon of terms so people could use appropriate terms.

Where should you store content online?  Keep in mind that it is easy to erase digital content (paper can be the most resilient storage mechanism) so you should keep it stored in multiple places. Store it in trusted sites that you know will last but also has the public good in mind. Archive.org is a good one. Anywhere that is trusted and has some public good behind it. Don’t trust free commercial platforms that are proprietary – you never know when they will make a decision that’s against your best interest. Also, make sure that your repository is appropriate for your content type, so for example, GitHub is built for code, not text – so if you want non-technical people to access your content, that might not necessarily be the best place for it. Also note: GitHub is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft and anyone who has content there needs to keep on top of the implications. Adam just wrote a blog post about how it’s easy to be a clairvoyant with popular free platforms. One day they will make a decision that is not in their users best interest (i.e. Slack, Medium, GitHub, etc.). Stick to repositories that have an ethos of ‘public good’ and ‘open source’.

Getting to the present day, Adam is working with the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation to build ‘PubSweet‘ to run a ‘headless’ publishing system. Most of the proprietary software developed for the publishing sector requires a lot of infrastructure and enforces a resource-intensive publishing workflow. CoKo Foundation tries to build more agile systems for supporting the messy workflows that happen around a synchronised collaboration. It will enable people to take pieces of PubSweet and develop their workflows. They are currently talking with several web host providers about providing one-click installs. Editoria is a web-based word processor included in PubSweet.

Coko helps people understand what their publishing workflows and is a third methodology that Adam has come up with along with Booksprints and the Cabbage Tree method.